Beginner stock photographers are often discouraged from not selling a single photo in a few months. How long should it take to start selling your stock photos?
While stock photography is a money-making opportunity for anyone, don’t expect easy and quick revenue. Random sales may appear in 1-2 months (this may be shorter for some stock photography agencies, see Shutterstock vs. Alamy), but regular income is only realistic in 1-3 years.
Experienced photographers often say: Stock photography business is not a sprint, but a marathon.
Well, but how do you know you should invest in creating, uploading, and tagging your stock photos if you haven’t had tangible results for years?
I am looking for an answer to this question in my article below.
When should you wait for your sales to start growing?
If your photos, or most of them, meet the following criteria, chances are you can count on an upward sales curve (see detailed description in my article about how to increase your stock photo sales).
I write the conditions in order of importance:
- Searchability, that is, providing accurate and relevant title (caption) and keywords (tags) for each photo
- Taking photos of topics or subjects searched by customers
- Photo quality (applying stock photo basics), post-production required!)
- Uploading regularly (at least 5-10 or more photos per week, but never huge amounts at once then nothing for months)
- Portfolio size (some 100 photos aren't enough, some 1000 photos are the minimum, diverse, non-similar images!)
It is not advised to wait…
- if you can only upload photos rhapsodically,
- if you have not enough time to figure out correct titles and keywords,
- if you're always only photographing what's in front of your eyes and don't care about trends.
Very important: the mere fact that you sell nothing or barely any pictures for 1-2 years doesn’t mean you’re heading in the wrong direction! (this is especially true for Alamy, where many contributors find that nothing is sold in the first year)
Though, if you don’t have regular sales in the 3rd year, you need to think about what you’re doing wrong.
There’s a huge demand for photos from customers. Demand for photos taken nowadays will increase again in 10 or 20 years. So there will always be buyers, it’s up to you whether you take the opportunity.
Why should you be patient and persistent?
If you can meet all the criteria and find new topics and subjects from time to time, your sales statistics will definitely increase. How much? It depends on whether you find the topics that interest your customers the most.
Trendy topics can be temporary (sports, weather and political events, fashion) or long-term (human relationships, food, landmarks). Based on these, you can experience outstanding periods when your income is much higher than average.
Many photographers find that the picture they uploaded 10-15 years ago is only now being sold, until now, it has been seemingly useless. Old photos will become valuable over time and may be in demand again. The Alamy stock photography company specifically encourages their contributors to take their long-forgotten photo prints, scan them and upload them because there is a huge demand for photos that evoke the world of the past.
How long does it take for the results of your work to be seen?
Contributors of the Alamy stock photo agency sometimes post their own progress, which suggests that the work invested is usually pays off by the 3rd year, meaning 4-10 or more sales are expected each month from then on. For Alamy, this means an average gross amount of $ 30 per image (sometimes 3 or 4 digit amount!).
However, at microstock companies (e.g. Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, iStock, etc.), of course, there are way higher sales numbers, but with an average revenue of less than $1 per image.
If you love to take photos and have outstanding (landscape, cityscape) ones, or follow world events and take your photos accordingly, with a few 1,000 photos, in 1-2 years you may even get to the point where regular income comes from stock photography.
If you don’t follow current trends and your images are average (not outstanding but high quality), volume can result in regular sales. That means you have to upload tens of thousands of photos in a few years.
If you go your own way when choosing topics, or your images are mediocre and you rarely upload, or you have a lot of photos with similar / slightly different content (e.g. series), don’t expect regular revenue.